Missing Places

You ever miss something that no one else does?

Back in October(?), shortly before I moved, I was taking my dog for a walk around a reservoir close to my house. I ran into my neighbor there, which usually happened anyway whenever I went there (I think he jogged there a lot). He was the father of my best friend from when we were kids. He lived next door and I used to be at his house every day, playing with my best friend. Honestly, as far as childhood memories go, I think I have more memories of his house than mine.

My best friend moved into that house a year after I moved into mine. I was 8 and he was 7. I don’t exactly remember how we met; we probably just saw each other playing in our yards and started playing together (we didn’t have fences at the time). I do remember him inviting me over to play Super Nintendo, though.

As I’ve mentioned in several previous posts, playing video games was a big thing for me and him while growing up. Naturally, I have a lot of memories of playing them, especially in his room and basement. Occasionally his dad would move the games into this larger spare room. He had a lot of cousins (I think his father alone had something like 7 or 8 siblings), so having the extra space was nice when everything wasn’t hooked up in the basement.

At one point, I started going to his house each morning before school. I don’t remember why; part of me thinks it was to avoid dealing with bullies at the bus stop, but I’m not sure. All I remember is eating cereal and watching cartoons with him, mostly Pokemon, when each morning was a new episode.

We drew a lot, too. Cartoon characters, video game characters, our own made up characters and comics, a lot of stuff, really. I don’t think we limited ourselves to any one room, but there was a guest room across the hall from his room that I remember spending the most time in. There was a set of double windows that let so much natural light in, and the room didn’t have a lot of stuff in it to start with, so there was plenty of space to stretch out on the floor and draw.

That same room had a computer in it. His family had the Internet before mine did, so I remember going online with him to look up stuff about Pokemon cards or pictures of things to print so we could draw from them. I think his house was the only place I listened to the magic that was dial-up.

I’ve been wondering if it’s strange to be thinking of his house so often lately. A lot of the memories I’ve been thinking about involve that house, and since I just moved, maybe it’s not too weird.

Anyway, so I ran into his dad at the reservoir. Turns out, he hasn’t been living there lately. He’s been trying to sell it and only came back once or twice a week to tidy up. It’s kind of weird how we moved into our houses around the same time and moved out of them around the same time, too.

But where I was sad, nostalgic, and almost even mourning moving out of the house and neighborhood I’d grown up in, my neighbor was telling me how he couldn’t wait to get rid of that house. And I don’t know why, but hearing him say that really depressed me. I wanted to tell him how much fun I had in that house, how important it was to my childhood, but I didn’t. Me and his son went our separate ways when I entered high school, and although we’re all on okay terms now, I thought it would have been inappropriate to share those thoughts.

But I couldn’t help but wonder what happened with that house after I stopped seeing his family on a regular basis. I don’t remember anyone in that house wanting to get out of it; I always assumed they were pretty content living there. But my childhood eyes could only see so much, I guess. Maybe my neighbor always hated it, maybe he didn’t. But it was just so depressing to know I wanted to walk around it one last time before I left, and he just wanted it off his hands.

And it’s not like the fact that someone else having completely different feelings towards a place than you do is a news flash to me or anything. It’s just… I don’t know. I don’t really know what my point here is. Just seeing him there at the reservoir, telling me how he couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there, knowing it was the last time I was going to see him, learning his son, my old best friend, moved shortly before and I would probably never see any of them ever again… I don’t know, it just made me miss his house even more. Because people will come and go, and I suppose places can do the same thing, too, but the house just seemed more permanent in that regard. Like, I know things will never ever go back the way they were, but at least I could always look at the house and be reminded of all the memories attached to it.

But his attitude towards it… I don’t know. It just really bummed me out, I guess. Maybe I was hoping those memories were important to another person, too.

Why Do Things Leave Less of an Impact On Us Now?

Borat. Silly Bandz. The Transformers movies. Guitar Hero. The explosion of Brony culture. Gangnam Style. Harlem Shake videos. Flappy Bird. I don’t know if it’s because I’m older or if the world works differently now, but I’ve noticed that trends come more frequently and leave less of an impact upon dying out. Now I’m not going to sit here and tell you that’s because “things were better and more memorable in the past than they are today,” but I would like to explore the idea of why we seem to remember things from 10+ years ago with more fondness.

One of the more obvious answers is because people typically tend to remember the stuff they grew up with before becoming adults. Time seems to pass differently for kids. I remember every year from elementary school through high school seemed like it lasted much, much longer. And naturally, the movies, TV shows, books, video games, and all of our experiences in general are going to seem like a bigger deal. When time gives the illusion of passing slowly, the things we do and experience during that time will usually leave a bigger impact.

Take Pokemon, for example. Any person that grew up in the 90’s probably has a lot of memories associated with Pokemon. I’m no exception. Some of my strongest childhood memories involve Pokemon. And there’s a lot of them. Watching the TV show before going to school, playing the Game Boy games almost every day, reorganizing my trading cards, playing with the toys, drawing them in notebooks, trying to make up my own Pokemon, playing the spin-off games (Pokemon Snap, Stadium, Puzzle League, even the board game and Monopoly version); the list goes on. I always viewed my time with Pokemon as the essential influence on my childhood. After all, it seemed to always be there back then. Strange how it was actually only for two years.

Eventually we got to a point where we embarked on a journey to discover who we are. It’s on that journey when we discovered those songs, movies, and other forms of media that spoke to us as something more than mere entertainment. A simple lyric or line could sync up with where we were in life. We felt connected to whatever said that thing we’d struggled to express ourselves. That’s why we tend to remember those influences more positively, even years later when we revisit them and they seem overrated, juvenile, or dated. We don’t forget what they’ve done for us, how we’ve remembered them so positively for years. That’s why we can overlook some of the more embarrassing qualities that would normally make us leave those influences behind as we move on.

But even so, what’s to stop us from being influenced now, after we’ve grown up? Well, it’s not impossible. Most of us 20-somethings are probably still looking for our place in the world. But we usually have a clearer concept of who we are, what we want, and where we want to be. It’s harder to find that special connection with different things because we no longer have vague concepts of who we are; we have more specific questions about ourselves that we need answers to. We’ve gotten more life experience, and it’s harder to find things that match our own ideas.

Of course, growing up aside, there’s also the issue of how information is presented today. I’m sure you’ve all read something about it, but stuff is thrown at us much faster and more frequently than ever. Since around 2006 or 2007, it’s been becoming ridiculously easier to absorb media in greater bulk. Quite frankly, we take this for granted, and the new stuff we acquire becomes less special.

But honestly, who can blame us? We have advertisements for movies and TV shows shoved down our throats every couple of minutes. You can’t watch a single video online without seeing a trailer for something. We see so many of them that they all just blend together. We can download book after book into the palm of our hand for just a few dollars each. Songs can be purchased at any time for just a dollar. Netflix and Hulu let us binge watch TV shows entire seasons at a time; remember when we had to actually get a physical copy of a box set for that to happen?

I don’t want to sound like an old man that wants to go back in time, but facts are facts: the easier it is to obtain something, the less special it becomes. Same with how frequently we obtain something. I’m not saying that limiting yourself to enjoying different types of media is going to make them leave a deeper impact on your life, but part of the reason the things in the past seemed like they were more important was because it was harder to get them. Other than birthdays and holidays, how did we get stuff? We didn’t have jobs, money was extremely limited, and it’s not like we could have gone shopping whenever we wanted. We were, more or less, at the mercy of another force, like our parents’ generosity. We had to make do with what we had, and as a result we appreciated it. And when something new came into our lives, we appreciated that, too.

Anyway, this was just some food for thought. What do you think?

I Miss Drawing

It’s been snowing a lot, making it difficult to do anything outside. Work hasn’t been giving me many hours lately, either. Which on the one hand is great because I’ve been able to do a lot more writing and reading, but on the other hand is leaving me with little money to put away. And because I have a few large payments coming up in a few months (not to mention I can’t find a better job around here), I’ve been freaking out a little. Freaking out leads to self-doubt, which leads to our familiar friend depression. Winter’s been hitting me straight in the feels, and I can’t wait for spring.

So with this extra free time, being stuck indoors, and getting lost in my thoughts, I’ve also been very nostalgic. And if you’ve read some of my previous posts, you know I can really get stuck living in memories. Lately I’ve been thinking about my childhood, in particular. I keep thinking about the things me and my best friend next door used to do together. There were a lot of video games, so I’ve found myself revisiting some of the ones we used to play, like the Donkey Kong Country series and Sonic Adventure 2: Battle. 

With Sonic Adventure 2: Battle in particular, I kept thinking about how much I used to like video game art. My best friend and I would play games, and then we’d take some sketch pads, pencils, colored pencils, crayons, erasers, and whatever into the big guest room in his house, drop everything on the floor, and just draw. For hours. Well, maybe not huge chunks of hours. Childhood mindsets aren’t great at interpreting lengths of time accurately. But we drew a lot, that much is true.

We took our video game instruction manuals and strategy guides and looked through them for cool artwork to draw from. And when the Internet became more relevant, we’d print pictures of more art to draw from (our parents didn’t like this). I mentioned in a previous post how some of my strongest memories involved video games, and now I’m thinking maybe one of the reasons for that is because I spent so much time looking at the art and copying every detail onto paper.

This wasn’t just something I did as a kid, either. When I was turning into a *lovable* teenager, I drew during class a lot, too. I still have some of the drawings I did on notebook paper, whether they were video game characters or not. And for whatever reason, it really makes me happy to see some of those old drawings surrounded by notes about subjects I never really cared about. Hell, I still have my binder from 8th grade algebra. It’s falling apart, but I drew Spongebob, Sonic, and Dragonball Z characters on the cover and never wanted to throw it away.

Man, I miss drawing! I used to draw fairly regularly throughout my early college days, too. In fact, I got pretty good, better than I ever was as a kid or teenager. So what happened?

I guess it probably started out during my first semester of college. I took art and interior design classes, so I was drawing all the time. I got up at 5 every morning to draw, and I was usually still working on an assignment before I went to bed (my first semester of college was surprisingly one of my busiest ones). While I ended up hating my art class (and my professor, he was kind of a snob), I did learn one crucial thing: if you’re going to do something for a living, make sure you love it. While I loved art and drawing under my own terms, it was really obvious I didn’t have the patience or interest to make a career out of it.

After that semester, I still sketched and drew here and there, but I started focusing more on my writing once I transferred into my main college. In the end that worked out; I found myself to have a much deeper appreciation for writing than I did with art, and I actually want to do something with my writing.

Although I don’t draw that often anymore, drawing and those memories are still very much a big part of me. I’ve always liked cartoons and video game art, and sometimes I still just browse through my old strategy guides or through Google’s image search, hoping to spark an inspiration to pick up a pencil and marker again. And last week I had this really strong urge to draw something from The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, so I grabbed my sketch pad and drew this:

Skull Kid

God, it felt so good to draw on paper with a pencil and marker again! Most of the art I’ve done in the past year has been digital, but this was just so satisfying! I loved it, I loved drawing again! Man, I miss it. When I’m not feeling great, and when writing’s not working for me, and when I’m feeling nostalgic, I’ve got to remember to try drawing more.

Snow

I think I hate snow. I don’t like hearing that we’re going to get heavy snow. I don’t like my commute time doubled. I don’t like looking at the muddy mess leftover after the initial snowfall. I don’t like slipping on my driveway. I don’t like when my car decides to lose control and I have to play a dangerous game of “get the car back in the lane it’s supposed to be in.” But now I’m looking outside my window, snow falling, slowly piling up on the fence, the patio, the grill, and everything else in the backyard, and I’m thinking perhaps I’m too hard on it, knowing well enough that tomorrow I’m going to hate it again.

Oh, snow. We have such a toxic relationship together. What happened?

I have pretty fond memories of snow from my childhood. My best friend lived next door, and every time it snowed (and if school was cancelled), we’d be out there playing in it. I know, I know. Pretty original story, right? But to be fair, most childhood memories of snow are about the same thing. We’d bundle up in a bunch of clothes and jackets and it was hard to move around in, and then we’d just go out and fling ourselves around the snow like dogs. It felt really nice, to have this weird snow thing just pepper our bodies throughout the day, and we wanted to enjoy it because who knew when it would come around again?

We’d pretend we were characters from video games or cartoons. Well, we did that a lot when we played outside anyway, but this time it was different because it was the snow version. And there was just something about how the snow blanketed the entire neighborhood that made it seem like we had a brand new, blank canvas to play on. We explored more, we stayed outside longer, and we played with the landscape. We tried making snowmen. Sometimes it worked out. It was a little rare to find snow that packed well enough. But we had fun doing it. Sometimes we tried making characters out of snow. That didn’t work out as well. We tried building igloos, too. Probably more than snowmen. I think we wanted to try igloos more because they stumped us. We knew what the looked like, but when we tried building them they just seemed like a structure that defied nature. Why did they keep collapsing??? Some of them just turned into snow forts or bunkers. Which was fine. I don’t know, there was something about being a kid and wanting to be cradled by snow. It sounds so claustrophobic now, but there was something comforting about being in a small area surrounded by snow.

And after a day of playing in the snow, we would either get called in by our mothers or decide we were too cold and wanted to warm up inside. And there would usually be hot chocolate. And it would be made with milk, because you can’t get away with making it with hot water on a snow day, you need to use hot milk for that special snow day hot chocolate flavor. Sometimes there’d be marshmallows. It didn’t really matter, though, because we were just in from the cold and had something really warm and delicious in our bellies. And then we’d play video games.

To be fair, we played video games a lot as kids. But I don’t know, there was something special about playing video games on a snow day. Snow days were like extra weekend days because we usually had all our homework done the night before, so we could just play all day with no real consequence. And for our school, if we got a snow day, the next day was most likely a snow day, too. At the very least, a delayed opening. So we didn’t have to worry about getting up early, we could just stay at each other’s houses for much longer than we normally could. We were only next door, after all. So we just played video games for the rest of the day, but the best part was we were still looking outside our windows the entire time, so it was like playing video games in the snow. And I don’t know, something about that was just kind of magical. Like, I’m trying to recall memories of snow and the strongest ones include staying inside playing video games, but for some reason I’m still remembering the snow. That kind of magical.

What happened, snow? Did I just become a cynical adult? Does the bad just outweigh the good? Back then we made such great memories. What do we have now? I drive 15 mph on unpaved back roads to get to work. Work doesn’t usually get snow days unless it’s really bad. Even when I was in college, snow days were rare. And I had a 50 mile commute, too. So even if it snowed so much I couldn’t open the front door, it didn’t matter because that didn’t necessarily mean it snowed that much at my school. It may not have even snowed at all. And college professors don’t tend to excuse absences for dangerous driving conditions.

I know, it sounds like whining. Maybe we tend to hate the snow after a while because we can’t play in it anymore. It doesn’t mean much if we still have to go to work. We need to get up earlier and clean our cars off and shovel our driveways and drive slower just to get there on time. The world doesn’t stop anymore when it snows. It’s far less beautiful that way. All snow does is create extra obstacles.

And yet…

There’s nothing like seeing the first snow of the season. Seeing a neighborhood blanketed by it, before anyone makes footprints or tire tracks, is stunning. Holding a handful of snow still feels cool, and good. Bring it close and you can see the light bounce off the tiny crystals. And call me a sappy romantic, but the idea of walking through a small flurry with someone you like makes me warmer than that delicious, made-with-milk hot chocolate ever did.

Oh, snow. You’re too much like an unhealthy relationship I just can’t seem to break away from.